Media Personality, State, Exaggerate Economic Impact of Agriculture Sector

Ag Department significantly overstates employment numbers

Popular talk show host Paul W. Smith made several claims in his most recent column for The Detroit News about the impact Michigan’s agricultural industry has within the overall state economy. It was meant to draw attention to Smith’s “Pure Michigan AG Tour.”

The column claims, without citation, that the state’s food and agriculture industry — “ag” for short — contributes over $100 billion each year to the state’s economy. It also claims that 923,000 jobs, or 22 percent of the state’s total employment, come from the industry.

Smith’s numbers come from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, one of many parties Smith thanks in the article. And while his numbers align almost exactly with what the state says, they are misleading.

The state’s numbers are likely based off of a 2012 study conducted by the Michigan State University Product Center for Food, Ag, and Bio. The Center’s numbers, in turn, estimate agricultural production as well as what it calls “induced economic activity.” But “induced” is a far-reaching term that could include, for example, what the driver of a produce truck spends on clothes for his children.

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The study also has a very broad definition of agriculture, including in it the economic activity of industries like the state’s breakfast cereal industry and pet food manufacturing as well as breweries and wineries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting was responsible for $3.1 billion in economic production in the state in 2016. That’s only 0.6 percent — less than 1 percent — of total state production. The federal government also records 70,826 people engaged in full- or part-time farm work in Michigan for 2015. That’s about 1.4 percent of the state’s total employment rather than 22 percent.

“I’m not saying that [agriculture] is not important,” said James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “But inflating its importance does everyone a disservice, including our farmers.”

Smith didn’t respond to attempts to reach him for comment.

Correction: The article inaccurately stated the percent of workers in Michigan employed in farm work.


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